Today’s Topic: COVID-19, social distancing and farmers markets; markets need the public’s help

by | Apr 7, 2020

Agriculture Commissioner Steve Troxler sits down each week with Southern Farm Network’s Mike Davis to discuss “Today’s Topic.”

We are beginning to get into the busier time at our farmers markets, which is creating challenges for social distancing. We are asking the public to help us keep these markets open, by doing their part on social distancing.  

Talking points:

  • I guess we could call this COVID-19 Episode 3.0.
  • A lot of our time at the department has been in dealing with the latest restrictions and executive orders surrounding COVID-19. In Episode 2.0, you may remember that we talked about our farmers markets being a good source of fresh meats, vegetables and fruits and providing an important service for communities.
  • This week, we were still focusing on state-operated farmers markets. We issued a plea to the public to help us keep them open by strictly following all social distancing rules.
  • We need the public’s help in achieving the social distancing that is expected at places that remain open to meet the food needs of the population.
  • We are heading into a busy time for the market, with strawberries coming into season and a lot of plants arriving. We will see the traffic, especially on the weekends, really pick up.
  • At any other time, that is a great thing. Our farmers are happy to see loyal customers coming in and looking for produce, meats, plants and prepared food items. They stock the shelves to meet the needs.
  • But the social distancing measures and stay-at-home orders make this an “anything-but-routine” time. And we all have to do our part to keep this deadly virus from spreading even more quickly.
  • So, we have put together a few tips to help shoppers who are coming to the market. But, I will add that these same tips apply if you are going to the grocery store or any other open business.
  • Where we once looked at shopping as a leisurely, social pursuit, today, we have to look at it as an essential activity only.
  • In other words, get in, get what you need, and get back home.
  • I’ll admit that doesn’t sound like a good marketing slogan, does it?
  • I know we will get back to a place where these extreme and drastic measures are not necessary, but until this pandemic gets under control, we have to adjust our actions accordingly.
  • So what can consumers do?
    • Plan to shop on a lower-traffic day and not the weekends. At this time of year, there will be a good selection of seasonal items throughout the week, too.
    • Come to the market with a purpose. Bring a shopping list to be sure you get what you need.
    • If your favorite vendor offers curbside service, make use of it! Curbside pick-up reduces foot traffic at the market and contact with others.
    • Don’t hang out at a stand after your purchase. This opens up space for the next shopper.
    • Designate a shopper for your family. This is a big one. At this time, we encourage you NOT to bring your whole family with you to the market. I know everyone is looking for something to do to get out of the house, but grocery shopping is not it. Shopping needs to be a necessity.
    • And finally, be mindful and courteous of other shoppers. Keep your distance while waiting to make a purchase.
    • To help you visualize, six feet is equal to two yard sticks lined up end to end. Many markets are marking the distance on the ground, so look for those helpful spacing cues.
    • Don’t touch food products you don’t intend to buy. And, when you get home, as always, wash your produce before you prepare it.
  • We have seen parks, greenways and forests closed across the state because people were not following social distancing rules. We do not want our farmers markets to follow, because they are essential food providers in our communities.
  • Help us keep them open. Help support our local farmers. Help redistribute your shopping dollars back into the community. I know North Carolina farmers appreciate the support.
  • We will get through this. It’s going to be uncomfortable and maybe even painful in the short run, but if we follow the social distancing rules, we will get on the other side of this pandemic.  
  • In the meantime, wash your hands, keep your distance (6 feet) from others, stay safe and keep agriculture growing and providing.